Festive review: Leslie Odom Jr / Megan Hilty / Eyles & Gould / All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride

“Its simple truth speaks volumes in a world where hatred rages”

Following on from the re-release of his self-titled album earlier this year, Leslie Odom Jr gives us another opportunity to sink into his world of soulful jazz with an album of reinterpreted holiday classics in Simply Christmas on S-Curve Records. And I do mean sink into like the most comfortable sofa you can imagine, in front of a log fire and drinking a nice cup of Charbonnel and Walker, for this is rich and luxurious stuff – as evidenced halfway into opening track ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ when a softly funky breakdown envelops you in its warmth like a marshmallow on top of that hot chocolate.

Dangerously seductive in Hamilton, Odom Jr will lose precisely zero fans here with this lush yet restrained style. Arrangements are kept simple, allowing heartfelt vocals to imbue tracks like ‘The First Noel’ and ‘The Christmas Song’ with renewed life. Equally, the piano and vocal improvs in ‘My Favourite Things’ keep things utterly fresh without losing sight of the overall vision of the record. The gentle guitar accompaniment to The Carpenters’ ‘Merry Christmas Darling’ is a thing of loveliness and Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s new festive standard ‘Winter Song’ blooms gorgeously under the treatment.  Continue reading “Festive review: Leslie Odom Jr / Megan Hilty / Eyles & Gould / All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride”

Review: Groundhog Day, Old Vic

“I have not a bad word to say, 
about small towns. Per se.”

Expectations were high, how could they not be. Following on from the extraordinary success of Matilda, Tim Minchin’s next foray into musical theatre was to an adaptation of the 90s movie Groundhog Day, playing a two month run at the Old Vic ahead of a presumed Broadway transfer (a move that has had a little doubt cast on it by the withdrawal of major producer Scott Rudin). Now full disclosure, I saw it in its first week thanks to the PWC £10 tickets and the show went for a full month of previews before officially opening, so feel free to take my opinion with a pinch of salt.

For I did not enjoy Groundhog Day, at all. Worse than that, I was bored by it – at least hating something rouses some form of passion, but as Danny Rubin’s book cycled round and round and Minchin’s not unpleasant but in no way striking score dissipated into the ether, I wondered if Rudin might not have had the right idea. There’s a stellar performance from US import Andy Karl as the central Phil, carved out of that leading man material that is particularly American, but for me there was just too little magic emanating from Matthew Warchus’ direction to elevate the material.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th September

CD Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)

“All along knowing that no-one has returned to care”

Barely managing six months in the West End in 2013/4, I think it’s fair to say the musical adaptation of From Here to Eternity underwhelmed. And though I was reasonably fair to it at the time, I can’t say that it has aged well, upon returning the live cast recording that was made before the final curtain fell, blame seeming to fall evenly between composer Stuart Brayson, lyricist Tim Rice and book writer Bill Oakes. 
And with weaknesses on all sides like this, very much exposed in the medium of record, it’s not too hard to see why the show didn’t achieve anywhere near the levels of success it was aiming for. There’s so little sense of the main thrust of the story coming through, or indeed any of the strands put forward being sufficiently developed, to make you care about any of the relationships or the plight of the men. 
Oakes’ book moves inconsistently around all of them and Brayson’s score does little to provide any covering connective tissue. His musical influences pull from too broad a canvas to provide aural cohesion and far too few of the songs are focused on advancing narrative – the coupling of Warden and Karen (whose surf-soaked bodies provide the iconic image) are given hardly any musical time together, quite Darius Campbell and Rebecca Thornhill are meant to do to generate chemistry in solo numbers is beyond me. 
Robert Lonsdale and Siubhan Harrison as the other couple fare a little better but again, are more apart than together musically. What we’re left with is a grab-bag of tunes, barely scratching the surface of anything, least of all the men of G Company whose tragic fate ends up feeling like divine retribution for being horrific human beings. There’s undoubtedly some halfway striking musical moments – the startling melody of ‘Thirty Year Man’ provides real interest, Ryan Sampson’s sardonic ‘I Love The Army’ threatens to show some character but all in all, it’s little surprise we’ve gone from here to obscurity.

Album Review: As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould

“There’s still music in the air…”

As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould is a new album showcasing the new musical theatre writing partnership of composer Eyles and lyricist Gould. Gould has been a prolific writer for some time now, as evidenced on his last CD Words Shared With Friends and whilst Eyles may be a newer composer, the pair have clearly found a rich vein of collaboration. The album features songs from two Eyles & Gould musicals – Stiles + Drewe Award finalist A Pebble for Aaron and The Wonderful Musician, a new musical-in-development based on the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale, with a smattering of other songs too to complete the collection. 

The brace of songs from The Wonderful Musician are both strong – Joe Sterling capturing a beautiful sense of optimistic innocence in the title track and Michael Riseley and Kayleigh McKnight soaring on ‘Perfect Companion’. But it’s the trio of tunes from A Pebble for Aaron that stand out. Kieran Brown’s reflective ‘The Flowers Have Faded’, the raw anger of Keith Ramsay’s ‘I Want You To See You’ and the aching pain of Shaun McCourt’s ‘Losing Him’ are point towards a richly emotional and poignant musical that is touching even in these brief excerpts here. The marriage of longing melody and lyrical meaning works superbly well here.  Continue reading “Album Review: As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould”

Review: Starting Here Starting Now, Pheasantry

“What’s my life been lived for, if it never comes”

Just a quickie for this first of two Maltby and Shire revues taking place at the Pheasantry. Next week sees Closer Than Ever but first up is Starting Here, Starting Now, celebrating its 40th anniversary with this production by Neil Eckersley. The American pairing of composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby Jr have had a long and fruitful career and this show, first seen in 1976, collected together a swathe of songs from the early part of their career, numbers that didn’t necessarily make it into their bigger shows or indeed into the limelight.

Which means that they aren’t always the most striking snippets of musical theatre in miniature. Granted, the majority are character studies, pieces of emotional minidramas, but as a selection box of songs, they don’t add up to a huge deal, their style is naturally somewhat old-fashioned and so it was hard to get too excited. What did raise the pulse was the musicianship on show – Sam Lupton, Carolyn Maitland, and Kayleigh McKnight all impressed whether in solo, duet or altogether under Kris Rawlinson’s taut musical direction. More of a curio than a must-see.

Booking until 20th April

Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre with TodayTix

“I’ll do my dance, I’ll make them drink”
 

I’m pretty there’s a clause in the gay contract that means it is illegal to turn down the offer of drinks in the Julie Andrews room so who was I to resist when the folks at TodayTix invited me to try out their mobile ticketing app by coming along to see Miss Saigon. Founders Merritt Baer and Brian Fenty have had big success on Broadway with their service, offering tickets for a range of shows one week to one hour before showtime and boasting of enabling tickets to be purchased in 30 seconds or less.

And I have to say that they’ve pretty much nailed it. The interface of the app is bright and easy to use (certainly it was on my iPhone6), there’s a wide range of West End shows available and the process of choosing and booking tickets at all price levels is simple and speedy with a little seatmap showing you where in the theatre your selected seats are. It really does streamline the ticket-buying process so that making any last minute decisions to see a show that much easier. Continue reading “Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre with TodayTix”

Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre

“Why God? Why today?” 

I wasn’t the hugest fan of Miss Saigon first time round as my review from then clearly attests but I’m never one to be entirely closed-minded (though it may not often seem that way…) so when the opportunity to take a friend who had not previously been popped up, I made a return visit to the Prince Edward Theatre. The show is still basking in the glow of recently winning 9 What’s On Stage awards and it is clear that it is attracting a younger and atypically passionate crowd (for a West End show at least). 

That passion cuts both ways though as the overexcited group behind us couldn’t hold back from the flash photography and the young woman in front of me was less enthused than the rest of her party and spent most of the show on Facebook. It makes for a different kind of theatre experience when you’re having to do battle with that kind of behaviour but given my continued lack of engagement with the storyline of this particular musical theatre behemoth, it was as much a distraction for me as anything.  Continue reading “Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre”

Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre

 
“Hey Joe, try taking a little excursion
You’ll feel good from a little perversion”

There’s a real generational split when it comes to Miss Saigon – a contemporary of such 80s mega-musicals as Phantom and Les Mis, it has comparatively fallen by the wayside in terms of longevity nor has its score really attained the status of a bona fide classic. So there’s a group of people familiar with the show ready and waiting to make comparisons between the original and this major revival at the Prince Edward Theatre, and then there’s the rest of us – me included – for whom this is a new experience.

And as is often the case when expectations have been pumped sky-high (“Box office records broken on the first day!” “The greatest musical ever?!” “Watch out for the helicopter…”), it isn’t immediately clear what all the fuss is about. Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s book is basically Madame Butterfly redux but transplanted to the Vietnam war as GI Chris is loved long-time by Kim, their love then forced apart by the US defeat in Saigon and a reunion, of sorts, organised once he finally discovers that he left more than his heart with Kim that evening… Continue reading “Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre”

CD Review: Words Shared With Friends

“I’m not a man who finds gestures of affection the natural thing to do”

Over the past decade or so, writer and lyricist Robert Gould has worked with a wide range of composers from across the globe and amassed quite the contact list of performer friends, so the progression to recording a collection of his songs feels like a natural one. Words Shared With Friends thus takes in collaborations from the USA to Sweden and Israel, with excerpts from eight different shows and some stand-along songs, and features a roll-call of exciting musical theatre talent including the likes of Laura Pitt-Pulford, Kit Orton, Joe Sterling and Rebecca Trehearn. 

The 16 numbers range from impassioned musical theatre to straight up pop-rock songs and through the diversity, it is the British composers who shine most. Sarah Galbraith and Kit Orton duet gorgeously on ‘I Cannot Lose You’, a newly written song from Orton’s own My Land’s Shore; Joe Sterling breezes through the effortlessly perfect pop of ’Reasons’ from the self-penned Roundabout; and Ben Stott captures the bruised fragility of Ben Messenger’s ‘Here It Comes Again’, a ruefully beautiful ballad of self-reflection and resignation.  Continue reading “CD Review: Words Shared With Friends”